We are a week removed from the Run for the Roses and it is another week until the Preakness Stakes, but there is still plenty of outstanding stakes action coming up this weekend including the $400,000 Man o’ War (G1) at Belmont Park.
The race will be televised live on Fox Sports 1 as part of the Jockey Club Tour on Fox, with the 90-minute telecast getting underway at 4:30pm (ET).
One of the most prestigious turf races of the year, the race is named after one of the all-time great racehorses. Man o’ War won 20 of his 21 career starts, including wins in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The race has a long history that includes wins by greats Secretariat (1973), Sunshine Forever (1988) and Gio Ponti (2009, 2010).
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has won the last two editions, winning the race with Point of Entry in 2012 and Boisterous last year. The trainer will send out contender Imagining this year looking for the hat trick. The horse is coming off a runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1) in his last start. The six-year-old is the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line.
Let’s take a look at the three most likely winners:
The five-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has made six starts since coming to the U.S. and has not crossed the wire first in any of his outings, although he was placed first via a disqualification in last year’s Arlington Million (G1) after he got bumped around by The Apache.
One of his best efforts came in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) over the Belmont Park turf course last fall where he checked in third, beaten a length for the top spot by Little Mike. The colt got a brief break after checking in ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
In his first start this year he stalked the early pace from the outside and finished evenly in a fourth-place finish in the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds over soft footing. The colt should be fitter for his second start off nearly a five month break and is in good hands with Chad Brown, who is off to a hot start at the Belmont Park meeting, winning with seven of his first 14 starters.
The Jeremy Noseda trainee is one of four in this field that started their careers overseas. This gelding has already made the trip across the pond once, starting three times in Southern California in 2012, winning the Twilight Derby (G2) and the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2).
The gelding has raced on the all-weather surface at Lingfield in his last three starts but is best on turf and has handled ground with some give to it, which should be the case today with rain falling in the New York area this week.
Beaten just a neck in the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap in his last outing, he will be a forward factor as he has some early speed and is making just his third start off the layoff. He landed with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott last year after arriving from Ireland and he won his first four starts in the U.S. including last year’s running of the Muniz.
The five-year-old has shown he can run on any type of turf and is perfect in two starts at today’s distance. He reunites with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, who was aboard him for his first three starts after coming stateside.
Palace Malice Back at Belmont
Palace Malice won last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1) in a minor upset and returns to the spot of his greatest triumph when he takes on three foes in the $150,000 Westchester (G3), the third race on the Belmont Park card on Saturday.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt is coming off a sharp win in the New Orleans Handicap (G2) in his last outing. The colt is 1-9 on the morning line and faces three overmatched foes in Declan’s Warrior (10-1), I’m Stepping It Up (20-1) and Red Rifle (8-1).
Fillies Faceoff in Ruffian
The co-feature on Saturday’s card at Belmont Park is the $250,000 Ruffian (G2) for fillies and mares that will go one-mile on the main track.
Fiftyshdesofhay is the 2-1 morning line favorite and is looking to bounce back off a sixth-place finish in the Santa Margarita (G1) at Santa Anita in her last start. The Bob Baffert trainee has not won since taking the Iowa Oaks (G3) last June.
Her main foe will be Grace Hall, who is making her first start in over a year. The filly was last seen checking in ninth in the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park last April. She won three of her seven starts last year and was the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) where she checked in third.
She will make her first start for trainer Bill Mott, who took over the training duties from Tony Dutrow. “She’d been laid up for a long time and it just took us awhile to get her ready,” Mott stated. “With any horse that’s been off for over a year you’re not positive how they’re going to run, but I’m hoping to see a good, positive effort from her.”
The Jockey Club Tour on Fox shifts to the Jersey Shore on July 11 for the United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park.
Odds courtesy of Oddschecker.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport.